by Bill Onasch
Their Holiday Praise and Ours
Today is the Martin Luther King Jr holiday, a day off for public schools, nonessential public sector workers, and most covered by union contracts.
It is a unique commemoration, enacted only after tenacious popular demand overcame dogged resistance. While the scale of observance is on a par with “minor” holidays honoring Presidents, veterans, and “discoverers,” this one hails one of the greatest leaders of the centuries long–and still far from completed–self-liberation struggle by African-Americans.
While the Black civil rights movement propelled him in to national and international prominence, and remained his central focus, Dr King recognized the importance of allies of different skin pigment as well–and not just well-to-do white liberals who raised funds for the movement. This Nobel laureate also worked to create a multi-colored Poor People’s Campaign as well as collaborating with trade unionists and the movement against the Vietnam war.
Both Dr King, and another Black clergyman of a different faith and different strategy–Malcolm X–alarmed the Establishment of their time. The FBI not only spied on them but also circulated slander about their character and infiltrated provocateurs in to the civil rights and Black nationalist movements. Both great leaders were assassinated. Those movements have not yet fully recovered from that loss.
As mortality shrinks the living memory of Dr King’s movement, today’s Establishment cynically places him on an iconic pedestal, an acceptable Black hero piously preaching placid peace.
But Dr King’s nonviolent mass resistance to racism and exploitation was hardly peace. While he deplored all forms of violence he adopted, in his own way, the spirit of the message scrawled on the walls of the oppressed everywhere–No Justice, No Peace.
Let’s use this day to reclaim the genuine heritage of the man whose life was taken while organizing solidarity with striking sanitation workers. Let’s teach our youth to revere not a saint but a fighter in the cause of justice for all working people.
We hear a lot about the need for transparency. But those who keep track of such things have noted a steep reduction in mainstream media coverage of environmental issues, especially climate change. Yahoo News used to have a Green page with several new articles every day from such good sources as AFP–but no more. Climate was one of the prime cuts at the incredible shrinking BBC. Few major U.S. papers have an environment desk.
On the other hand, the global warming denier talking heads still have free reign on Fox News and CNN. Laced with hearty jokes, they explained how the recent plunge of the Polar Vortex, bringing extreme cold to all of Canada and much of the USA, was the final nail in the coffin of a global warming scam conjured up by money-grubbing climate scientists.
Of course, as every high school Freshman knows these days, global warming refers to a rise in the average temperature of our entire planet. Across the 197 million square miles of Earth’s land and water surface some areas will become cooler as others warm up. This process can influence extreme weather events such as the rare descent of the Polar Vortex in to southern latitudes–as well as the life threatening heat wave that just disrupted the Australia tennis Open.
Still, it must be admitted that the cable network science deniers are having at least a temporary influence on some of the insecure who would like to have reason to deny. The polls show an incremental dip in American public acceptance of climate science.
The Polar Vortex has not been a big problem in California. But the always unpleasant Santa Anna Winds off the desert are hotter and fiercer in areas of extreme drought. The Governor has in fact declared the entire state to be in a drought emergency. Wild fires are again a threat in wooded hills and farmers are reluctant to plant in the arid valleys. Not much mirthful denial there.
The prospects for the entire Pacific basin are not good. Becky Oskin opens a Live Science article,
“The most intense El Niño events may soon hit every 10 years, instead of every 20 years, thanks to warming water in the eastern Pacific Ocean, a new study predicts. An El Niño is the warm phase of a long-standing natural climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean. When changing wind patterns start piling up warm water in the eastern part of the equatorial Pacific, the redistribution of hotter water triggers changes in atmospheric circulation that influences rainfall and storm patterns around the world — an El Niño.”
Nearly all major news outlets in the USA are plugged in to the Associated Press. But it was only in the British-based Guardian that I found an AP dispatch that began,
“Delaying action on global warming will only increase the costs and reduce the options for dealing with its worst effects, according to a draft report by UN experts. The final draft of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global warming will continue to increase unless countries shift quickly to clean energy and cut emissions.”
The New York Times did carry an article of their own about the UN draft report which started out,
“Nations have so dragged their feet in battling climate change that the situation has grown critical and the risk of severe economic disruption is rising, according to a draft United Nations report. Another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies, experts found.”
That’s good to know but even in the Times it wasn’t the lead story of the day–that was Governor Christie’s “bridgegate.”
Many environmental activists have looked to Europe, where there is much greater public understanding of the climate crisis, for inspiration. But the German newsweekly der Spiegel shows those laurels are not fit for resting,
“The EU’s reputation as a model of environmental responsibility may soon be history. The European Commission wants to forgo ambitious climate protection goals and pave the way for fracking — jeopardizing Germany’s touted energy revolution in the process.”
Some environmental disasters can’t be ignored by the media. When hundreds of thousands in West Virginia lost access to safe drinking water due to a chemical leak the Fourth Estate was all over the human interest story like a cheap suit. Little attention was paid to the responsibility for the calamity and when the authorities gave the all clear to use the water again the editors called roving reporters home.
The assurances by the private water company that health danger had been averted was based more on faith and hope than empirical verification. While I share the hope the Center for Disease Control cautioned that there have never been any extensive studies on the health effects of human exposure to the leaked chemical, MCHM, much less any meaningful exposure limits. The fifteen page Material Safety Data Sheet supplied by the manufacturer has 152 entries showing “no data available.”
Some reporters were allowed to dig deeper in to how an ancillary of the coal industry–which has now filed for bankruptcy–inadvertently created a disaster of a scale that terrorists could only dream. The answer was not really hidden. West Virginia is the heart of coal country and the state government doesn’t like to intrude in its business with a lot of regulations and inspections.
Coral Davenport and Ashley Southall began a New York Times story,
“Last week’s major chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River, which cut off water to more than 300,000 people, came in a state with a long and troubled history of regulating the coal and chemical companies that form the heart of its economy. ‘We can’t just point a single finger at this company,’ said Angela Rosser, the executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition. ‘We need to look at our entire system and give some serious thought to making some serious reform and valuing our natural resources over industry interests.’ She said lawmakers have yet to explain why the storage facility was allowed to sit on the river and so close to a water treatment plant that is the largest in the state.”
At one time the coal industry could claim to be a job creator in West Virginia. Those days are long gone. Since the 1970s new technology such as longwall boring eliminated many jobs. More recently new environmental destruction known as mountain top removal has slashed jobs even more. They use explosives to literally blow the tops off mountains to turn them in to open pit mines for easy scooping of the coal beneath. The United Mineworkers Union has far more retiree members than working miners.
If the coal industry was completely shut down in West Virginia–as it ultimately must to meet the challenge of climate change–present coal industry workers and their children could be given a life time of work just remediating the environmental damage to Appalachia–and that’s exactly what society should do.
The WIR and our companion news blog Labor Advocate, will continue to bring the hard to find stories about the greatest challenge humanity has yet faced to our readers. We need to know the truth–and we need to act.
In April hundreds of labor activists will gather in Chicago for the biannual Labor Notes Conference. This could be a good opportunity for starting to integrate the issue of climate action in to the perspective of the vanguard of class action. The two will rise or fall together.
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